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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

An Ethnographic Study of Romanian Vernacular Museums as Spaces of Knowledge-Making and Their Institutional Legitimation
by Klimaszewski, Cheryl, Ph.D., Rutgers The State University of New Jersey, School of Graduate Studies, 2020, 373; 27833289
Abstract (Summary)

The primary purpose of this study is to understand vernacular museums: as a phenomenon; as interactive spaces of knowledge-making for visitors and makers; and as an emergent institutional form within the broader contexts of legitimation of Romania’s cultural “heritage” institutions. The focus is on describing and analyzing experiences of embodied knowledge-making for museum makers and visitors at the personal level; and on understanding contexts of legitimation of these emergent institutions related to cultural programs and policies being enacted at Romanian state and EU institutional levels.

An ethnographic research approach incorporating autoethnography collected data through in-person visits to four vernacular museums during which the researcher audio-recorded the museum maker’s tour narrative and photographed notable moments that captured self-reflexivity during the experience of the museum tour. Impressions of other visitors were collected in eight interviews and in guestbook comments at three museum sites. Multi-sited fieldwork was complemented by textual analysis of documents produced by the national-level cultural program that worked to legitimate the 24 vernacular museums that are a part of this study, their website descriptions, and cultural program and policy documents related to Romania’s EU accession in 2007.

Findings suggest that makers present their museums as conceptual journeys that foreground how each maker’s idiosyncratic knowledge world entwines with the material arrangement of objects in the museum space. Each museum visit conveyed distinctive perspectives on the past that revealed a response to problems the maker perceived in the present. Visitors recognized vernacular museums as both contiguous-with-yet-distinct-from institutional museum experiences because of the person-to-person connections they made with museum makers and the rich sensory experiences that characterized these often unplanned encounters.

Vernacular museums are a distinctive emergent cultural form because of how they foreground personal interpretations of the past that contrast with those featured in institutional museums. Museum experts cultivated vernacular museums as a unique yet viable form of culture by adapting and improvising common museum practices. These experts also capitalized on developments in cultural policy and legislation that emphasized participatory approaches to culture, including the creation of an association of these museums as an example of civil society. The RECOMESPAR association enhanced the efforts of this group of museum makers, allowing them to reclaim continuity with the past by foregrounding the making of heritage on their own terms. Vernacular museums are hybrid institutions that insert personal, local and individual perspectives on the past into the public/private cultural binary as a complement to and commentary on official institutional representations of heritage in ways that exemplify the participatory and visitor-focused tenets of new museology.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Dalbello, Marija
Commitee: Belkin, Nicholas, Marchi, Regina, Vamanu, Iulian
School: Rutgers The State University of New Jersey, School of Graduate Studies
Department: Communication, Information and Library Studies
School Location: United States -- New Jersey
Source: DAI-A 82/1(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Information science, Museum studies
Keywords: Autoethnography, Cultural heritage, Embodied knowledge, Institutional legitimation, Knowledge-making, Vernacular museums
Publication Number: 27833289
ISBN: 9798662407800
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